This weekend, Friday July 24 to Sunday July 26, I— along with my new shirts— will be attending Confluence, “Pittsburgh’s premier SF/F/H literary conference.” The location is: Doubletree by Hilton Cranberry Pittsburgh (that’s a mouthful) 910 Sheraton Drive, Mars, PA 16046.
My con schedule:
Big Ideas: “Philosophical” Science Fiction …. Lawrence Fri 8:00 PM
How do evil societies function? …. Armstrong Fri 9:00 PM
Seven things an SF/fantasy novel always includes …. Mars Sat 10:00 AM
Gender in Fantasy …. Armstrong Sat 12:00 PM
Not Just Anglos …. Lawrence Sat 3:00 PM
Does fantasy need to acknowledge physics? …. Armstrong Sat 7:00 PM
Hope to see you there!
While this blog post I read conflates a number of issues that I think are unrelated, it raises an issue that I think is valid for most authors to think about. It is the nature of most fiction, especially genre fiction, to focus on a central character, the protagonist. This is generally whom the story is about, and it is who the author tends to invest the most agency. The more dire and far reaching the story the author wants to tell, the greater the temptation it is to raise this single character above the general population, make them special. The epitome of such the impulse is in the trope of the “chosen one,” the person with the skills, the destiny, the bloodline, the prophecy. . . yada, yada, yada. Sometimes this makes sense, when you’re talking about a trained soldier going into a critical battle. Sometimes though, when the farmboy is told about his special inheritance and destiny to fight the powers of evil, it comes across as wish-fulfillment at best, and problematically elitist at worst.
I want to see an Epic Fantasy where the rebellion says to Hell with it, we’re not waiting for the prophesied savior to actually take down the Evil Empire.
There is a very old trope in SF, epitomized in the novel Slan by A. E. van Vogt, where a subset of humanity “evolves” some form of mental/psychic gift and is subsequently persecuted by the majority “normal” population. It’s a theme particularly suited to expressing alienation, and the term “Fans are Slans” gained currency back when SF fandom felt truly alienated from the wider culture. When I finally saw Sense8 on Netflix, it struck me as a modern take on a similar idea, albeit expressing a different, and more adult, form of alienation.
So, when I read this article about transhumanism and pop culture sci-fi, I’m struck by how much history is absent from its appreciation.
Sense8 is, in terms of premise and plot, a classic golden age story that could have slipped into psionic-era Astounding circa 1950. In terms of character and theme, though, it made a detour through Dangerous Visions. . . Specifically through its use of near explicit sexuality in various forms. The sex, I think, is a major part of the theme, as almost all the main characters begin at a point of alienation with the wider world, in two cases primarily because of their sexual orientation, in another case because of an upcoming marriage, and in yet another because of a past relationship and birth that ended tragically. Sex (straight, gay and poly) and birth (both graphic) are a big part of the package. But if that doesn’t deter you, its worth a watch.